WASHINGTON (CN) – Democratic lawmakers sent a letter Tuesday to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos demanding an explanation for last month’s flip-flop of her department’s internal investigation leadership, claiming they have evidence of interference in an independent probe over the reinstatement of an accrediting agency.
In January, the Education Department’s Acting Inspector General Sandra Bruce was suddenly replaced with Deputy General Counsel Philip Rosenfelt, but the roles were reversed again days later.
The quick switch happened, according to Democrats’ letter to DeVos, after the Education Department’s deputy secretary seemingly pressured the inspector general to drop an active investigation into DeVos’ reinstatement of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, an organization stripped of its credentials by the Obama administration for giving accreditation to for-profit schools like ITT Technical Institute.
According to Tuesday’s letter, Deputy Secretary Mitchell Zais wrote Bruce a letter prior to her short-lived replacement which “expressed displeasure” at the inspector general office’s decision to follow a congressional investigation request into the accreditation agency’s reinstatement, citing a “disagreement over policy” as the reason there was an inquiry at all.
Bruce insisted she would continue the investigation, stressing “the importance of maintaining independence from the department,” but was temporarily replaced weeks later by Rosenfelt.
House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., and four other House and Senate Democrats signed onto the letter demanding increased transparency into the department’s communications during the temporary switch to Rosenfelt.
“We have become increasingly concerned by the department’s efforts to influence the independence of the OIG and that office’s critical work,” the letter states, adding that lawmakers are “disappointed by the limited documentation” provided about Bruce’s replacement.
Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill said in a statement that “these claims are simply untrue and don’t match the actual sequence of events,” adding that “to insinuate otherwise is doing so with no basis in fact and purely for political gain.”
Democrats are asking for the names of those who decided to designate Rosenfelt as inspector general, what factors contributed to the decision, and the names of other offices that were consulted over the matter.
The letter asks that all documentation be provided by March 5.